"The Young American" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The son of a minister, divinity school graduate Ralph Waldo Emerson found his calling as a lecturer across the nation. Before live audiences, he presented his thoughts on a wide range of topics, which he often revised for publication. From his February 7, 1844 address to the Mercantile Library Association in Boston, here are some words calling for American leadership. Read the full text here.

Here are links to our lists for other works by Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature, Self-Reliance

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definitions & notes only words
  1. reflection
    a calm, lengthy, intent consideration
    Who has not been stimulated to reflection by the facilities now in progress of construction for travel and the transportation of goods in the United States?
  2. beneficent
    doing or producing good
    This rage for road building is beneficent for America, where vast distance is so main a consideration in our domestic politics and trade, inasmuch as the great political promise of the invention is to hold the Union staunch, whose days seemed already numbered by the mere inconvenience of transporting representatives, judges, and officers across such tedious distances of land and water.
  3. boundless
    seemingly limitless in amount, number, degree, or extent
    An unlooked for consequence of the railroad, is the increased acquaintance it has given the American people with the boundless resources of their own soil.
  4. prudent
    marked by sound judgment
    And even on the coast, prudent men have begun to see that every American should be educated with a view to the values of land.
  5. redress
    make reparations or amends for
    Columbus alleged as a reason for seeking a continent in the West, that the harmony of nature required a great tract of land in the western hemisphere, to balance the known extent of land in the eastern; and it now appears that we must estimate the native values of this broad region to redress the balance of our own judgments, and appreciate the advantages opened to the human race in this country, which is our fortunate home.
  6. physic
    a purging medicine
    The land is the appointed remedy for whatever is false and fantastic in our culture. The continent we inhabit is to be physic and food for our mind, as well as our body.
  7. influence
    a power to affect persons or events
    The land, with its tranquilizing, sanative influences, is to repair the errors of a scholastic and traditional education, and bring us into just relations with men and things.
  8. cultivate
    prepare for crops
    The habit of living in the presence of these invitations of natural wealth is not inoperative; and this habit, combined with the moral sentiment which, in the recent years, has interrogated every institution, usage, and law, has, naturally, given a strong direction to the wishes and aims of active young men to withdraw from cities, and cultivate the soil.
  9. adorn
    make more attractive, as by adding ornament or color
    For, beside all the moral benefit which we may expect from the farmer's profession, when a man enters it considerately, this promised the conquering of the soil, plenty, and beyond this, the adorning of the country with every advantage and ornament which labor, ingenuity, and affection for a man's home, could suggest.
  10. patriotism
    love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it
    Any relation to the land, the habit of tilling it, or mining it, or even hunting on it, generates the feeling of patriotism.
  11. majesty
    impressiveness in scale or proportion
    We cannot look on the freedom of this country, in connexion with its youth, without a presentiment that here shall laws and institutions exist on some scale of proportion to the majesty of nature.
  12. expansive
    of behavior that is impressive and ambitious in scope
    It seems so easy for America to inspire and express the most expansive and humane spirit; new-born, free, healthful, strong, the land of the laborer, of the democrat, of the philanthropist, of the believer, of the saint, she should speak for the human race.
  13. economy
    the efficient use of resources
    For Nature is the noblest engineer, yet uses a grinding economy, working up all that is wasted to-day into to-morrow's creation;—not a superfluous grain of sand, for all the ostentation she makes of expense and public works.
  14. particular
    small part that can be considered separately from the whole
    It is because Nature thus saves and uses, laboring for the general, that we poor particulars are so crushed and straitened, and find it so hard to live.
  15. appropriate
    give or assign a resource to a particular person or cause
    She flung us out in her plenty, but we cannot shed a hair, or a paring of a nail, but instantly she snatches at the shred, and appropriates it to the general stock.
  16. prospective
    of or concerned with or related to the future
    We plant trees, we build stone houses, we redeem the waste, we make prospective laws, we found colleges and hospitals, for remote generations.
  17. trade
    the commercial exchange of goods and services
    The philosopher and lover of man have much harm to say of trade; but the historian will see that trade was the principle of Liberty; that trade planted America and destroyed Feudalism; that it makes peace and keeps peace, and it will abolish slavery.
  18. commercial
    connected with or engaged in the exchange of goods
    It would be but an easy extension of our commercial system, to pay a private emperor a fee for services, as we pay an architect, an engineer, or a lawyer.
  19. enterprise
    an organization created for business ventures
    If any man has a talent for righting wrong, for administering difficult affairs, for counselling poor farmers how to turn their estates to good husbandry, for combining a hundred private enterprises to a general benefit, let him in the county-town, or in Court-street, put up his sign-board, Mr. Smith, Governor, Mr. Johnson, Working king.
  20. faculty
    an inherent cognitive or perceptual power of the mind
    Where is he who seeing a thousand men useless and unhappy, and making the whole region forlorn by their inaction, and conscious himself of possessing the faculty they want, does not hear his call to go and be their king?
  21. titular
    existing in name only
    We must have kings, and we must have nobles. Nature provides such in every society,—only let us have the real instead of the titular.
  22. perseverance
    persistent determination
    I think I see place and duties for a nobleman in every society; but it is not to drink wine and ride in a fine coach, but to guide and adorn life for the multitude by forethought, by elegant studies, by perseverance, self-devotion, and the remembrance of the humble old friend, by making his life secretly beautiful.
  23. nobility
    elevation of mind and exaltation of character
    I call upon you, young men, to obey your heart, and be the nobility of this land.
  24. eminent
    standing above others in quality or position
    In every age of the world, there has been a leading nation, one of a more generous sentiment, whose eminent citizens were willing to stand for the interests of general justice and humanity, at the risk of being called, by the men of the moment, chimerical and fantastic.
  25. suffering
    troubled by pain or loss
    The people, and the world, is now suffering from the want of religion and honor in its public mind.
  26. lofty
    of high moral or intellectual value
    I find no expression in our state papers or legislative debate, in our lyceums or churches, specially in our newspapers, of a high national feeling, no lofty counsels that rightfully stir the blood.
  27. corrupt
    dishonest or immoral or evasive
    The private mind has the access to the totality of goodness and truth, that it may be a balance to a corrupt society; and to stand for the private verdict against popular clamor, is the office of the noble.
  28. succor
    help in a difficult situation
    That is his nobility, his oath of knighthood, to succor the helpless and oppressed; always to throw himself on the side of weakness, of youth, of hope, on the liberal, on the expansive side, never on the defensive, the conserving, the timorous, the lock and bolt system.
  29. philanthropist
    someone who makes charitable donations
    We cannot give our life to the cause of the debtor, of the slave, or the pauper, as another is doing; but to one thing we are bound, not to blaspheme the sentiment and the work of that man, not to throw stumbling-blocks in the way of the abolitionist, the philanthropist, as the organs of influence and opinion are swift to do.
  30. impart
    bestow a quality on
    But the wise and just man will always feel that he stands on his own feet; that he imparts strength to the state, not receives security from it; and that if all went down, he and such as he would quite easily combine in a new and better constitution.
  31. formidable
    extremely impressive in strength or excellence
    Every great and memorable community has consisted of formidable individuals, who, like the Roman or the Spartan, lent his own spirit to the state and made it great.
  32. modify
    cause to change; make different
    Gentlemen, the development of our American internal resources, the extension to the utmost of the commercial system, and the appearance of new moral causes which are to modify the state, are giving an aspect of greatness to the Future, which the imagination fears to open.
  33. conscience
    motivation deriving from ethical or moral principles
    One thing is plain for all men of common sense and common conscience, that here, here in America, is the home of man.
  34. abound
    exist in large quantities
    Here stars, here woods, here hills, here animals, here men abound, and the vast tendencies concur of a new order.
  35. advance
    move forward
    If only the men are employed in conspiring with the designs of the Spirit who led us hither, and is leading us still, we shall quickly enough advance out of all hearing of other's censures, out of all regrets of our own, into a new and more excellent social state than history has recorded.
Created on March 30, 2017 (updated October 1, 2018)

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